THE BURNING CHAMBERS
Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE. But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever.
For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive. Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.
The Burning Chamber is the first book in a trilogy about the Joubert Family series which is set against the backdrop of the Wars of Religion in France. The story is set in Carcassonne in 1562 where nineteen year old Minou Joubert lives with her widowed father and her two younger siblings. As tensions in the area increase, Minou soon finds herself entangled with a young Huguenot, Piet Reydon, who has stolen an artefact sacred to the Catholic Church and is framed for murder in La Cite. Drawn to Piet, Minou helps him escape and thinks she will never see him again.
Minou receives an anonymous letter with the message: She knows that you live. Minou cannot make any sense of it, however she knows her ailing father is hiding secrets from her. After a recent trip away, Bernard Joubert is a broken man who is becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of his eldest children so he sends them to Toulouse to live with their maternal aunt. However, Toulouse isn’t as safe as he thinks it will be as tensions between the Catholic and Huguenot factions are at boiling point. When Minou is caught in a skirmish, she is astonished to realise her rescuer in none other than Piet Reydon and she learns more about the Huguenot cause.
However, someone is looking for Minou and that someone will not stop until she gets what she wants. Minou is about to learn a dark secret from her past that will put the lives of those she loves in grave danger. After retrieving the artefact, Minou attempts to escape from Toulouse but her association with Piet has made her a target. Minou hides the relic in her cloak along with her mother’s bible, which also contains a will she does not understand, and entrusts them to her younger brother, Aimeric, who makes it out of the city. Minou and Piet are soon caught up in the Riots of Toulouse that beset the city in 1562 and barely escape with their lives. The relationship between Minou and Piet deepens as the book progresses but the turbulence of the era will throw many obstacles in their way.
AlthoughThe Burning Chambers is mostly set in the south of France, the prologue and epilogue take place in Franschhoek, a town in South Africa, in 1862, with characters who are obviously descendants of some of the people portrayed in the book. There is animosity between the characters but not much is revealed. Franschhoek, or French Corner, is significant as it was established by Huguenots who were forced out of France in 1688. The refugees established their own farms in the valley and many French surnames, like Joubert, are still prevalent in the area today despite Dutch integration.
The story then flashes back to 1562 where we meet the Joubert family at the start of the French Wars of Religion that are likely to affect their family for generations to come. The story builds gradually as we are introduced to our main protagonists and it takes a while for their various backgrounds to be revealed which makes the pace quite slow at times. However, the story is rich in detail and the plot is a complex one which couldn’t have been easy to condense into manageable chunks. Of course, Kate Mosse is no stranger to Carcassonne so the descriptions of this medieval place are second to none, as is the wonderfully vibrant portrayal of Toulouse.